When I was 13 years old I had a crush on a girl named Justine. We went to school together at Woodland Elementary School in St. Catharines. I used to time trips to the bathroom so I would see Justine outside the library. She would be working alongside the other members of the yearbook committee and come out into the hall to give me a big hug. The hugs made me like Justine even more, and when we rode the bus to a nearby high school to do tech class I would lag behind in the hall to make sure I was close to Justine, and get a seat next to her on the bus. On one of these trips Justine’s friend, Kristen, who had been rather fond of me, made arrangements for Justine and me to sit together on the bus. Justine held my hand and when we reached the other school she smiled and we got off the bus together. Justine and I rode together on the way home too but never again did she hold my hand, on the bus ride or ever. Our fling had evidently played its course.
Five years later, after I had graduated from high school and was waiting to go to university, I fell for a girl named Vicky and we became girlfriend and boyfriend. We used to take long walks in the forest by her house and kiss for endless hours in the basement of her parents’ house. We would go on holiday trips to the cottage and go snowshoeing and be very happy. That is, until it was time for me to go away and we had to decide what happens next. I promised Vicky that we would stay together, even though her friend, another Peter, said I would drop her as soon as I went away to school. I proved Peter wrong and came back that Thanksgiving and saw Vicky. She ran out to me in her driveway and jumped into my arms and we hugged. Then her mother came to the door and told us to come inside. A month later, after we had been together at Christmas and up to the cottage, I called Vicky from my dorm room and we broke up.
Oh, such are the woes of teenage romance! Nothing is eternal or forever, but still we behave like they are. Kids and lovers embrace as if the last rafts of the Titanic were being dropped into the cold blue and we had but a small time to live. That is also the impression I get when I listen to Chicago rockers Smith Westerns, who are all around 20 years of age. “Love is a waste of time but the sun still shines, and it shines right on you,” belts lead singer Cullen Omori, on the record “Smile” from their acclaimed second album, Dye It Blonde. Smith Westerns write songs about love, and not just any love, but teenage love, in all its fleeting and unfounded glam-glory. In Toronto the Smith Westerns opened things up with a shaky performance of “Good Die Young”, complaining to the sound guy to turn down the reverb on the mic, before transitioning into a stunning live rendition of “Still New”. “I wanna tell you you’re hard to resist, and if this is all that you know, don’t go in alone,” sings lead singer Cullen, as brother Cameron and Max Kakacek recoil from their mics for a humongous Brit-pop-rock-inspired guitar hook.
The Horseshoe Tavern on Queen West served as a fine host for the Omori brothers and bandmate Max. The crowd was primarily Queen Street hipsters, students from U of T and Ryerson, English Lit majors, all crammed into the dark back cellar that is the Horseshoe Tavern. “We’re glad to be at the Horseshoe,” breathed Cullen into the mic, “We haven’t played a show in a while, but this place is legendary. It’s fun.” Cullen had on a distressed jean jacket, torn skinny jeans, his jet black hair flopping carelessly over his face. Cameron, the shy guitar soloist, also had dark locks down to his chin, and rocked blindly to the vibes of his guitar strings. Max, the final member of the band, had on a plain black tee and two silver chains, which complimented his rich leather guitar straps to give him a rugged thrift look. The highlight of the evening – besides apple turnovers with mint chocolate chip ice cream at Matt’s – had to be the boys’ performance of “Be My Girl”, which appears on the Westerns’ self-titled album, a lo-fi affair that receives its proper treatment in an intimate venue like the Tavern. “Oh yeah, I wanna take you home, oh don’t you know, oh don’t you know, you keeping runnin’ through my dreams, just be my girl, out there in this world,” exclaims Cullen, capturing what could be the most beautiful frankness and simplicity in teenage affection, in a verse and a chorus.
Later that evening I left the Horseshoe recalling all the crushes I had as a kid, and the girls I still might be fond of if I had them now. But, like the Smith Westerns’ music, there is something profoundly tragic about love these days. You are doomed unless you can build a home for your love, make love a community between you and your lover. And quite frankly, financially, for young boys and girls, that is not realistic. So we are cursed to carry on our relationships knowing the end is inevitable, knowing a split is coming unless we can (or want to) finance a ‘home’ for ourselves and our better half. That word ‘finance’ is indeed ugly, I know, but it was what I was thinking as Matt and I trekked through the soft January flurries into Kensington. “And I’ll tell you it’s alright, I’ll take the long way home, is there nothing else that I should know?” I sang to myself, mouthing the words to the Smith Westerns’ “Fallen In Love”, as Matt and I climbed up the steps to his pad. At that moment, I knew damn well that I too would probably take the long way home … but for who? And why? Is love supposed to have a reason? These are all questions I suppose will be addressed in later Smith Westerns albums. But until then, le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point, or something like that.
- Special thanks to David McDonough